Mon, Jun 07, 2004 - Page 10 News List

APEC ministers urge new push for global trade rules

FORUM CONCENSUS The trade officials have asked for a `special commitment' from WTO members to abolish all forms of agricultural export subsidies


Trade ministers of 21 Asia-Pacific economies agreed on Saturday to urge the WTO to resume negotiations for new global trade rules by next month, expressing particular concern over lack of market access for agriculture products.

"This meeting has given a very important push" to the Doha round of WTO talks which collapsed in the Mexican city of Cancun last September, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told a news conference after a two-day ministerial meeting in Pucon of the APEC forum.

The ministers in a statement urged all WTO members "to intensify their efforts in coming weeks to agree by July on the key issues that will provide a clear way forward for the Doha negotiations."

The APEC economies control nearly half the world's trade and their joint statement was seen as a catalyst for pushing the Doha round forward.

A major concern among the ministers was market access for agricultural products, which remains the biggest obstacle in current WTO negotiations, although there has been some recent movement from developing countries.

"Agricultural market access is lagging behind export subsidies and domestic support," the APEC ministers said. They called for "special attention to be given to finding a way forward."

The US, the EU, Japan and South Korea have been blamed by developing countries for using subsidies to restrict their markets to exports. The complaint by developing nations over what they consider unfair agricultural subsidies totaling some US$300 billion paid by rich nations was at the center of the impasse in the talks in Cancun. Developing economies were also accused of erecting market barriers to imports.

WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi, who briefed the ministers, said some APEC economies also had not made a clear stand on market access for agriculture products. However, he declined to name them.

"Even though we have different perspectives on this, there is a need now to come out with a framework on agriculture market access," Zoellick said.

The ministers in their statement sought a "special commitment" from WTO members for abolishing all forms of agricultural export subsidies within a target date.

The US and Europe have lately offered concessions on export subsidies and asked the developing nations to also make equally generous offers.

Another flashpoint in WTO negotiations which seemed to have been eased in Pucon were the so-called Singapore issues -- trade facilitation, cross border investment and competition, and transparency in government procurement.

The ministers called for only trade facilitation to be included as an item for negotiation in the WTO instead of all four issues to be included in the Doha Round.

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